GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Michigan Tech made it anything but easy for North Dakota to earn a trip to the WCHA Final Five tournament in St. Paul this week.
For the second straight night, the Fighting Sioux clung to a 2-1 lead with time winding down as the Huskies, their goalie pulled, applied furious pressure. Unlike Saturday’s game however, MTU didn’t get the bounce it needed to send the game into overtime, and UND hung on for the win.
“We threw everything but the kitchen sink at them with the goalie pulled,” said MTU coach Jamie Russell. “We got a good bounce last night, but we didn’t get a bounce tonight.”
For UND coach Dave Hakstol and the Sioux, it was almost dj vu watching the puck bounce around as the final seconds ticked away.
“We had a bouncing puck on top of our crease with one second to go,” Hakstol said. “It went absolutely right down to the wire.”
In the end, the two goals by UND junior center T.J. Oshie and 10 saves by senior goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux were enough for the Sioux to punch their ticket to St. Paul. Second-seeded UND will face third seed Denver University at 2 p.m. Friday in the Xcel Energy Center.
The Sioux won the Friday game 4-0 and appeared to have Saturday’s game wrapped up when the Huskies tied it with 5.5 seconds to go and then won in overtime. The third game was every bit as physical and intense as the second one; only the outcome was different.
“It’s almost a shame that one team has to lose this game because both teams laid their hearts on the line,” Hakstol said.
“What else can you say about Michigan Tech?” asked UND senior goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. “They made us work for every inch in all three games.”
MTU opened the scoring at 11:27 of the first period by capitalizing on a Sioux turnover in the neutral zone. Huskies’ junior forward Alex Gagne carried the puck into the UND zone two-on-one with linemate Tyler Shelast, who tipped Gagne’s centering pass past Lamoureux.
UND evened it up at 14:09 on Oshie’s 16th goal of the season. Coming down the right side, forward Ryan Duncan saucered a pass to Oshie cruising down the slot. He pulled the puck to his backhand and shot it by junior goalie Michael-Lee Teslak.
Oshie said he was somewhat surprised to have so much open net for his shot.
“I actually didn’t even see that he (Teslak) was down,” he said. “I was trying to handle Dunc’s pass, which was a great pass through two guys. I was going to go to my backhand no matter what.
“I looked up and he wasn’t there. I think I heard him say something as he was sliding the other way. I just slid it in there.”
Just 19 seconds into the second period with the teams skating four aside, UND took a 2-1 lead on Oshie’s second goal of the game. From the right point, defenseman Robbie Bina spotted Oshie alone to Teslak’s left. Oshie one-timed Bina’s cross-ice pass past Teslak. His 17th goal of the season proved to be the game-winner.
After suffering a lower body injury against St. Cloud State last weekend, Oshie was questionable going into the playoff series against MTU, but he played in all three games and scored three goals.
“Being a little banged up, there was definitely a little bit frustration there through the three games,” Oshie said. “But I told myself, ‘I’m an older guy, I’m a leader, I’ve got to play through this,’ and that’s what I tried to do.”
“For those who know T.J., maybe they noticed that he wasn’t quite 100 percent,” Hakstol said. “But you talk about mentally and being driven at 100 plus percent, that’s something you can’t replace and something he brings to the table.”
“The kid’s a hell of a player,” Russell said of Oshie. “He’s a difference-maker. He’s not long in this league. He’s going to be a difference-maker at the next level as well. He’s a strong kid. Hes impressive.”
Teslak continued to bail out the Huskies when the Sioux applied strong pressure on the forecheck. At the 5:09 mark, he denied a point-blank tip-in attempt by UND’s Matt Watkins, who then put a pass straight up the slot. Pinching in, Bina had a wide open net until Teslak dove across the crease for a spectacular glove save.
The Sioux outshot the Huskies 14-2 in the second period. MTU didn’t register a shot on goal until 2:51 remained in the period.
“At various times in all three of the games, we had opportunities to extend the lead,” Hakstol said. “I thought tonight in the second period that maybe we could build a lead, but they’re so darn tough to play against. Teslak made timely saves in that second period and we just couldn’t build that lead. That led to what was a furious third period.”
With the Huskies outshooting the Sioux 5-3 in the final stanza, Lamoureux had to be sharp.
“When the game was on the line and Michigan Tech was down, I thought they made an awful lot of plays, maybe the most plays of any period that they made throughout the nine periods,” Hakstol said. “In that third period, they were very good.”
In the final minute, the Huskies hit the post on a partial breakaway and fired the puck toward the net following a faceoff in UND’s zone with 26.4 seconds left, but MTU ran out of puck luck and the Sioux held on for the 2-1 win.
“I was proud of our guys,” Russell said. “We battled hard and played simple hockey. We had some good chances and Lamoureux made some big saves.
“When two goaltenders are playing at the top of their game, it comes out a bounce here and a bounce there.”
Lamoureux, a Grand Forks native who’s having a record-setting season for UND, played his final game for the Sioux in Engelstad Arena. After coming out onto the ice to salute fans with seniors Bina and Rylan Kaip, he tossed his stick into the crowd.
After the game, he said the gesture was triggered by his memory of former UND player Jason Blake giving his stick to a child after scoring a goal in overtime.
“I always thought that was pretty cool,” Lamoureux said. “This being my last game here, I thought I’d make it a special night for a little guy up in the stands.
“There are a lot of memories here. I’m just proud that I get to go out with a win.”